Behaviour signals the internal states that relate to an individual’s welfare and its development is influenced by the early social environment that an animal experiences. Husbandry practices can alter this early social environment, for example different rearing conditions (e.g., foster rearing by a surrogate parent of another species). Widespread implementation of altered rearing can lack empirical support and non-parent-reared animals may experience poorer welfare resulting from maternal deprivation. An opportunity presented itself to measure the effect of foster-rearing on Chilean flamingo behaviour and social preferences at WWT Slimbridge Wetland Centre and compare findings to parent-reared conspecifics in the same time period. Data were collected from April to July 2019 at three timepoints during each observation day. Binomial generalized linear mixed models were used to assess the relationship between focal chicks’ rearing background with behaviour, zone usage, and flock position whilst accounting for climatic factors and visitor numbers. The development of social preferences was assessed using social network analysis. Our results showed limited impacts on flamingo behavioural development due to foster rearing. Foster-reared chicks spent less time feeding, were more likely to occupy the nesting area of the enclosure, and had fewer significant preferred associations than parent-reared chicks, but preferred social bonds were as equally strong and durable for both foster-reared and parent-reared chicks. Our results have important welfare implications for the use of foster-rearing in captive environments; altered early social rearing environments through cross-fostering in Chilean flamingos is associated with limited differences in behavioural and social development.
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